NHL officials have always taken their fair share of grief. But lately, ever since some questionable calls in the Winter Classic drew the ire of Rangers head coach John Tortorella, controversy has reigned supreme in the NHL, especially when it comes to disallowed goals.
No officiating system will ever be perfect, regardless of sport. But what if some calls recently are less about the officials' inadequacies and more with the way the NHL has implemented the use of instant replay?
Just like the NFL monitors every touchdown, the league's video review headquarters in Toronto watches every goal. So why is there any rule preventing the eyes in the sky from getting the call right?
With the technology in place in every NHL arena and multiple camera angles that almost always give definitive evidence of what the call should be, there is no excuse why any play involving a goal should be deemed unreviewable. Of course the idea of asking for all plays to be reviewed, such as offsides, icing touchups, may not be feasible, but if the league is unable to take a second look at a goal, regardless of circumstance, the league must oblige in the interest of making the correct ruling.
In each of the last two nights, there has been a goal disallowed by the referee on the ice that was not deemed reviewable by the NHL's War Room in Toronto. In fact one of those goals took place in overtime of a heated contest between Calgary and San Jose.
Sharks defenseman Justin Braun took a drop pass from Jumbo Joe Thornton and fired on net, beating Mikka Kiprusoff for what seemed to be the game-winner. The goal was immediately waved off, however, because it appeared that Tommy Wingels had interfered with Kiprusoff as the shot approached the crease:
As you can clearly see, it was Flames center Olli Jokinen, not Wingels, who bumped Kiprusoff prior to the puck arriving. There was no interference by Wingels or any Sharks player, so in theory, the goal should have stood and the Sharks should have won the game. Luckily for them, they earned the extra point in the shootout just minutes later, but it should never have come to that.
What if the Flames had won that game? Then they're unjustifiably one point closer to that coveted eighth playoff spot in the West they're so vigorously "going for."
Then there was another call last night's Sabres-Blackhawks game. With the Blackhawks leading 4-2 in the final moments of the second period, Chicago rookie Andrew Shaw made an acrobatic play in which he leaped, caught the puck to the left of the Buffalo net and placed it down where eventually Marcus Kruger slammed it into a wide open net:
Even Doc Emerick was expecting to hear "Chelsea Dagger" one more time after referee Tom Kowal's brief conversation with Toronto, as if he hadn't heard it enough already.
Much to his surprise, the play was deemed no goal as Kowal deemed the play dead as a result of a hand pass. The problem? Shaw's stick touched the puck prior to Kruger's, making it theoretically a good goal as per Rule 79.1:
79.1 Hand Pass - A player shall be permitted to stop or “bat” a puck in the air with his open hand, or push it along the ice with his hand, and the play shall not be stopped unless, in the opinion of the Referee, he has directed the puck to a teammate.
However, Kowal blew the play dead as soon as Kruger touched the puck based on a hand pass. If the official is at least in the action of blowing his whistle to stop play because of a hand pass, the play may not be reviewed in Toronto.
The game resumed without even as much as an explanation for the national audience tuning in on NBC Sports Network, but why?
At the very least, the NHL should mandate reasoning for the fans in attendance. Word eventually got out through the Hawks radio station, who confimed the call, but there were still over 20,000 fans on hand who had no clue what the reasoning was. Replays continued to show in the United Center and fans cheered what should've been a good goal. How ugly would this have gotten if it was a tie game in the playoffs?
Take a look at this baseball/soccer-esque goal by the Flyers that was not allowed to stand in a game last season against Tampa Bay. Cool? You bet. Legal? Absolutely not.
Obviously Claude Giroux touches the puck with a high stick and his linemate, James van Riemsdyk, was the next person to touch it. That one's easy, play was stopped as soon as van Riemsdyk made contact with the puck. But what if Giroux's stick, for argument's sake, was much closer to the crossbar than the referee originally thought? Would it really be that much of a hassle to stop play and have Toronto take a look?
If it's worth getting just one more play per year correct, then it's worth it every time, right Sabres fans?
A concept was introduced by Drew Remenda, San Jose's color-commentator, in the aftermath of the disallowed goal that suggested allowing each head coach the chance to risk their timeout by challenging one call per game, also similar to the NFL.
It should never even get that far. The implementation of instant replay has helped referees make the correct calls for years, but it has also been handicapped by those who regulated it's use at all. The time has come for instant replay to make it's presence known on all controversial plays around the net, regardless of situation.
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